‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Bosses On Developing New Netflix Series Within ‘The Sandman’ Universe, Their Idea Of Hell (Literally) & Potential Season 2

SPOILER ALERT! This post contains details from the entirety of Season 1 of Dead Boy Detectives.

As it turns out, even ghosts have problems.

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Netflix’s Dead Boy Detectives, an adaptation of the comics by Neil Gaiman, follows two mischievous teenage ghosts who have not crossed over into any afterlife and instead are operating a detective agency out of London that helps their fellow phantoms with their many troubles. In Season 1, the boys find themselves trapped in a sleepy Pacific Northwest town after following a case there.

But once the ghosts in Port Townsend find out the Dead Boy Detectives are in town, there’s a line out the door for their help.

Along the way, they also recruit two humans, Crystal and Niko — who they’d also happened to save from their own paranormal woes. As the group begin working their way through the cases in Port Townsend, they realize the town is much less sleepy than they originally thought.

From a witch with a vengeance (and a taste for young girls) to a tortured father who murders his family on a loop until they’re freed to Lilith herself, the detective agency seemingly encounters everything in that small town. By Episode 7, Charles (Jayden Revri) even treks into Hell to save his partner, Edwin (George Rexstrew).

“I’ve said from the beginning that we were trying to make The Hardy Boys on acid,” showrunner Steve Yockey told Deadline

Yockey and co-showrunner Beth Schwartz spoke with Deadline about the developing Dead Boy Detectives, Charles’ journey into Hell, a potential Season 2, and more. Read the interview below.

DEADLINE: How did you start developing Dead Boy Detectives?

STEVE YOCKEY: In high school, I was addicted to The Sandman, and I discovered Dead Boy Detectives at a period where I had experienced personal loss, and I found it to be comforting. Like a psychotropic drug comforting. I mean, it’s a strange comic book. I sort of fell in love with it. When I got a little bit of street cred at Warner Brothers, I like walked over to DC and was like, ‘Can I please have this obscure property?’ And they said, no. I waited and bided my time, and then there was a changing of the guard over there, and I slipped in and got my request into Jim Lee, who talked to Neil Gaiman, and then they said, yes. So then we got to make it, which was very exciting. After we had made the pilot, I knew I wanted a partner on the show. It was recommended to me that Beth would be a wonderful partner. And I said, ‘Beth is not gonna say yes to this, because she’s Beth Schwartz, and she’s a badass.’ But luckily, she said, yes.

DEADLINE: Beth, what made you say yes?

BETH SCHWARTZ: Well, I got to see the pilot before a lot of people, and I just fell in love with the characters and the world that Steve built off of Neil Gaiman’s characters in his world, and just the production value. Then I met with Steve and I was like, ‘Yes, we are doing this.’ We had a great meeting. And we’ve honestly had, it’s boring, but we’ve had so much fun during this process, and the two of us are complete opposites. You can’t see us, we’re both sitting, but I’m barely over five feet, and he’s over six feet. So even aesthetically, we’re our opposites. But we complement each other and have just had such a great time.

DEADLINE: How much did you keep from the comics, and where did you deviate?

YOCKEY: We knew we wanted to hang on to the boys’ backstory as much as we could. We obviously couldn’t do the full “Season of Mists” backstory, because they have not done that on The Sandman yet. And we were trying to exist within The Sandman universe without stepping on any toes. So we had to slightly tweak their backstories. We held on to the friendship as the core thing, and obviously the detective agency. And then Crystal, to a certain extent, has the same backstory from the comics. Everybody else is either a new creation or a new version of something that was in the comic books. We did a lot of reappropriating and moving things around. So it will feel familiar to readers of the comic book, but also hopefully surprise them in good ways.

SCHWARTZ: And be accessible to people who are not familiar. You don’t need to have read the comic books to understand and love the series.

DEADLINE: I’m admittedly in that group who isn’t super familiar with the comics. I also wondered about the “rules” for how the ghosts exist in the universe. Did you take all of that from the comics?

YOCKEY: The rules about how ghosts operate are laid out like in a two page spread in the comic book, where it’s like, ‘Here are the ghost rules.’ So we took that and we ran with it. Then we did everything in our power to just work that internal logic pretty rigorously. But these rules are the rules.

SCHWARTZ: We introduce it bit by bit, so it wasn’t too overwhelming. And all our characters like Tragic Mick and Cat King, they all have their own set of rules as well. So it’s kind of endless in a way, what we can play with. We had a lot of freedom, specifically from Neil, for us to basically play with whatever we wanted to.

DEADLINE: I’m very interested with your depiction of Hell, as Charles is navigating it to save Edwin. How did you come up with the aesthetic for those nine circles of Hell?

YOCKEY: We knew that Sandman had established the dark, fiery, vast plane that Lucifer lives on. So we were like, ‘Alright, how are we going to do this and not step on any toes?’ So we built all the layers above that, basically, in a Dante’s Inferno kind of a way. That’s how we got around existing in the Sandman universe, but also being able to tell the story we wanted to tell. Neil signed off on it. So that was good. Beth always said this really interesting thing in the room, which was great, which is like you don’t want to directly adapt the comic book, because that’s not it’s a comic book. It’s meant to be a comic book. If you’re going to turn it into television, it needs to come alive in a different way. So I think that’s loosely how we went about moving things from the comic book to the show, sort of like, let’s take the essence of it, but what’s going to work best for us? Hell is a really good example.

DEADLINE: Where did the spider made of babydoll heads come from?

YOCKEY: I am an arachnophobe. I’m afraid of spiders. So spiders terrify me. Also, it’s upsetting having that spider made of baby doll heads…and having it giggle is upsetting. When we saw the original model for it, I got very excited and had nightmares.

DEADLINE: It is terrifying, especially when the spider is chasing them up the stairs out of Hell.

YOCKEY: If I ran Netflix, I’d put a Spider trigger warning before that episode.

DEADLINE: Switching gears a bit, I want to talk about Crystal’s journey. I really enjoyed not knowing much about her and kind of seeing her growth retroactively once you see how awful she used to be. Can you talk about writing that in a way that resonated with audiences?

YOCKEY: Well, we wanted Crystal to be solving the mystery along with the audience. It’s really interesting when you think about it. Crystal’s negativity comes largely from the way she’s treated by her parents. And when David took away all of her personal memories, he also took away all of the memory of how she was treated by her parents. So all of a sudden, she’s free to just start forming new connections with the boys, with Niko, with Jenny, without the baggage of the thing that was pushing her in the darker direction. So we get to see her grow and see her try to work on herself and work on her anger. We don’t know if David’s telling her the truth because he’s a demon and he gaslights like a mofo. But I do think that the plan was always [that] we’re going to find this moment where she gets her memories back and realizes, ‘Oh, no, I’m a terrible person. But I’ve grown. But am I still that terrible person?’ So we leave her in this place of like, ‘Who am I now?’ Which is feels very interesting. It feels more interesting than just, oh, she was a bad person.

DEADLINE: If you’re renewed for another season, how would you explore more about her family dynamic?

SCHWARTZ: Jumping off of what Steve said on her journey in Season 1, because without her memories, she became this other person, because of the boys and Niko and this friendship group. Now that she has all her memories back, and they’re going back to London, and she’s going to have to face her family, I think her biggest fear is going to be, ‘Am I going to return to this old person that that I don’t like [and] that other people didn’t seem to like very much? Are my new friends going to dislike me because of it?’ So I think there’s so much territory to be played there. If we do get to Season 2, how her parents would react to the new Crystal, the one who’s been working for the detective agency, and has been changed by meeting this group?

YOCKEY: I will say the one thing we did not change from the comic books is her parents.

DEADLINE: So, when you’re putting together these cases, how do you come up with what problems ghosts could have?

SCHWARTZ: It is so much fun. This is what’s so fun about the show and what makes this show so specific, and, I feel, very different from anything we’ve seen. We have no limits to what ghost story we’re going to tell or what creature we’re going to meet. It allows our room to be as creative as possible. So you have a sea monster in one episode and then you have this man murdering his entire family on a loop over and over again and they’ve got to stop it. So we can also be as dark and as light as we want to be in tone. I feel like that gave us a lot of freedom. In the beginning of our season, a lot of writers have freedom to pitch crazy, ridiculous things, which you do on every show. But this is the only show I’ve ever worked on where we actually use all those crazy ideas. We also made sure that they hit on our characters’ emotional journey. So even though they can be as wacky as possible, or as dark as possible, they have to affect one or more of our characters and help them grow towards their emotional journey for the season.

YOCKEY: I’ve said from the beginning that we were trying to make The Hardy Boys on acid. So the cases needed to be [like], this can be the case of a girl who was caught up in a revenge porn scenario. But we’re going to take it to the nth degree with this and go way beyond where a Law & Order would go. If you can’t tell, we have a lot of fun.

DEADLINE: There were definitely points where it pushed some boundaries. There was multiple times with the sprites, specifically, where I thought, ‘I can’t believe they just said that!’

YOCKEY: There were multiple times with the sprites where we were like, ‘I can’t believe they just said that.’ We didn’t really have any boundaries, except we don’t want to do anything as storytellers that take you out. So there is a line obviously. We’re not going to show some horrific thing that’s way off tone, or have somebody say something that’s way off tone. But as far as pushing the borders of what we’re working in, yeah, we’re all about that.

DEADLINE: Niko’s death — or what is seemingly her death — is a pretty surreal moment. What was the impetus for that moment? It almost served to remind me that these characters can still die, and they’re not supposed to stick around after that.

SCHWARTZ: For Niko, it really was about crafting her journey for the season. She started as a shut in, basically, scared of the world because she had these sprites in her that were attracting outside attention. But also, she wasn’t dealing with her with the grief of her father’s death. So she was scared of the world. It just made the most sense for her at the end, through meeting this friendship circle, she saw how they put themselves on the line. She really learned a lot from them and putting her herself in the line of fire was the most natural way to end. It wasn’t just to be like, remember the stakes and people can die. It just fit her character’s journey, and it was believable that she would do that to save her friends.

DEADLINE: Should you be renewed, do you have ideas for where a second season could go?

YOCKEY: I think there’s not a limit that we found yet to how far we could go, but that’s very brash answer. I would say we’ve had some really, really good conversations about what a second season would look like. The cool thing about the show is, because it has the overriding season arcs but also a case of the week, it has the kind of legs where it can just keep going. So we hope we get that opportunity.

SCHWARTZ: We ended the season specifically to set up a Season 2, because all our characters are going back to London and the agency has expanded. Just all the fun and the new dynamics that we could explore in Season 2 would be really, really exciting for us.

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